Red Light Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Last modified on October 10th, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Puttanesca is made from tomatoes, black olives, capers, onions, garlic, basil and anchovies giving it its reputation of being pungent and invigorating, like the prostitutes of Naples. 

Everybody loves a good story. Especially in the kitchen we’re surrounded by culinary anecdotes that evoke an emotion or familiar; stories of thoughtful ingredients, kitchen heirlooms and beloved dishes adding to the comfort of the cooking experience. But ever so often the history of a dish is so well told that the combination of eating and reflecting becomes a treat for the senses. Enter the fiery and sexy story of Puttanesca, the prostitutes pasta.

Spaghetti Puttanesca on a white plate with small bowl of chilli flakes

Puttanesca sauce is made from tomatoes, black olives, capers, onions, garlic, basil and anchovies giving its reputation of being pungent and invigorating. A few nights ago Philip and I made this Naples classic and ate our meal while reading and discussing stories of how puttanesca came to be:

1. Prostitutes would cook puttanesca and the pungent smell would waft into the streets to entice men into their brothels in turn giving them more business. You could call them the sirens of the culinary world.

2. There’s another myth that prostitutes could only shop the market one day a week due to a conflict with them and the clients’ wives. Using canned ingredients in their Puttanesca like anchovies, capers, olives and tomatoes allowed their ingredients to last longer throughout the week.

3. Puttanesca was an easy and quick meal ideal for cooking in between clients at the brothel.

Bon appetit xo

Chef Sous Chef

Spaghetti Puttanesca next to a glass of red wineFlat Lay of ingredients and the finished Spaghetti Puttanesca


Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti Puttanesca on a white plate with a napkin

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca provides aromas matched only by the taste of this flavourful pasta dish. Black olives, capers, onions and garlic make for strong flavours balanced by the sweetness of the tomatoes and basil. Don’t forget freshly grated parmesan to finish the dish. With how easy it is to make, you’ll wonder why this hasn’t been in your rotation of work week dinners.

  • Author: Chef Sous Chef
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: Food + Drink, Everyday, Dinner
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • 1 lb dry spaghetti or linguine
  • 3 tbsp light olive oil
  • 1 small shallot (thinly sliced)
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • ¾ cup olives (pitted and chopped)
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes (28oz)
  • ½ cup parmigiano reggiano (freshly grated)
  • ¼ cup basil leaves (loosely packed)


No. 1 | Fill a large stock pot with water and a tablespoon of salt. Cover and place on high heat and bring to a boil.

No. 2 | Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet or frying pan. Heat olive oil to medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and stir until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat as necessary to ensure garlic doesn’t burn. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

No. 3 | Add the dry pasta to the water and cook until al dente.

No. 4 | While pasta is cooking, add the olives, capers and chili flakes to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Continue to cook until thickened. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

No. 5 | When the pasta is done, strain and reserve about ½ cup of pasta water. Stir the spaghetti into the puttanesca sauce. Add pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Stir in ¼ cup of the parmigiano and the basil leaves. Serve immediately, topping with additional parmigiana and basil leaves.

Keywords: Real Food, Pasta, Italian, Easy Recipes

Puttanesca overhead ingredients olives, capers, tomatoes and basil


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  • Reply
    Paula P.
    November 17, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I love the story, hahaha! This is my new favourite pasta dish.

    • Reply
      Chef Sous Chef
      November 20, 2017 at 8:14 am

      Thanks Paula!

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